Political Hay

Karl Rove to Visit Lake Superior

Looking for opportunity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

By 6.22.07

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It is good to see folks in the White House get around the country to reconnect with the grassroots. So I was pleased to hear from a friend in Michigan's Upper Peninsula that Karl Rove is heading to the town of Marquette on the shores of Lake Superior for the local Republican Reagan Day Dinner on June 23rd.

Michigan Republican Party Chairman, Saul Anuzis, confirmed this information in a blog entry of June 16th in which he also discussed a possible challenge to the sitting Democratic Congressman, Bart Stupak, by a term-limited state representative, Tom Casperson of Escanaba (that's on the southern side of the U.P. on Lake Michigan).

Stupak is a former law enforcement officer who votes pro-life and would be considered a "moderate" among today's Democrats. Yet, the GOP believes that the demographics of his congressional district, which also encompasses the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, and Stupak's recent voting record, offer an opportunity for a challenger.

Aside from the fact I love the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin area, vacationing there as often as possible, I found this out-of-the way visitation by Karl Rove interesting in light of the recent political analysis released by Democracy Corps, the not-for-profit political organization established by Democratic consultants James Carville and Robert Shrum along with pollster Stanley Greenberg.

The analysis, embodied in a June 19th memo, is entitled, "On the Offensive: First Survey in the 2008 Battleground Districts," and is authored by Carville, Greenberg, and Ana Iparraguire. From a Democratic perspective it is an optimistic yet cautionary document which views the current political climate as "both the best of times and challenging times for the Democrats."

"The electoral situation could not be better, particularly in the battleground districts where 2008 looks like a repeat of 2006, but further into their playing field," say Greenberg et al.

Iraq is the challenge since it is "the most important issue for voters who want change, yet it brings gridlock and attracts all the camera attention, obscuring progress on other issues where it is happening."

For the authors of "On the Offensive," the solution is not to back off on the Iraq war as a political issue to focus exclusively on domestic issues. Rather, they recommend "bursts of engagement on Iraq taken as far as our majorities will take us, recognizing Democrats are gaining against the President." These Iraq bursts should be alternated with similar bursts on domestic issues, "achieving laws where possible but engagement with the President where not." In this way, say the memo writers, the Democrats can remain on the offensive.

These conclusions are grounded in Democracy Corps' first "battleground" poll of 1,600 interviewees -- a robust sample -- in 70 districts, half Democratic and half Republican, which the authors believe will be in play in 2008.

On average, Democratic candidates hold a 9-point lead in these districts which supported Republican candidates by 1 point in 2006 and President Bush by 8 points in 2004. Even "marginal" Democratic incumbents hold 20 point leads on average and poll in the mid-50s. Democrats virtually tie the vote in competitive Republican-held districts, 45 to 43 percent, and beat the opposition by 8 points in suburban-rural districts.

Unsaid, but clearly implied by the authors, it could only go downhill from here. Hence, they are anxious to maintain momentum. The Democratic Congress's low favorability ratings are barely higher than the President's. Equal numbers, 44 versus 44 view the President and the Congress as divisive and partisan.

Greenberg, Carville, and Iparraguirre believe the Democrats' future agenda should emphasize expanded health coverage for "kids," energy independence, and immigration.

Immigration is mentioned by a quarter of voters as one of their two most important concerns. However, it presents a dilemma for Democrats because border control garners more support than "legalization" (House Republicans call it "amnesty"). Indeed, "voters are 22 points more likely to support Congressional proposals focused on increasing border security and stopping illegal immigrants from getting government benefits than one focused on legalization," state the authors of "On the Offensive."

Resorting to hyperbole, and then to understatement, Greenberg et al., concede that Republican "demagogic attacks" on amnesty or promotion of English as the official language "are not ineffective, suggesting Democrats will have to take up immigration in ways that offset the attacks."

So the immigration "reform" debate would appear to help Congressional Republicans but not the White House, which is more closely aligned with Democrats on the issue.

If the Democracy Corps polling is to be believed, with the Democrats holding a 9-point advantage in battleground districts, it paints a darkening picture that began with the Gallup Organization's review of polling data for 2001-2005 revealing pronounced shifts in party identification and independent voters in favor of the Democrats. (I discussed these data on this site back in February.)

THIS BRINGS US BACK to Karl Rove's visit to Marquette to rally the troops and survey the field of battle in the Great Lakes State. While a case could be made that a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a great way to beat the neo-tropical summer heat in Washington, Rove is not the kind of guy to just throw a dart at the map, just aiming for someplace north of the 45th parallel or higher. He is a relentless competitor, ever "On the Offensive," to use a phrase from Greenberg et al.

I am not sure I would have picked Bart Stupak as a potential prey for a GOP pick-up in Michigan, but I am not as smart as Karl Rove. The Prussian military theorist, Clausewitz, cautioned military leaders to anticipate the independent will of the opposition as part of the inevitable fog and friction of warfare.

Karl Rove looks like he is trying to create a bit of friction for the Michigan Democratic Party way up north.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.